10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers

10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers

Written by: Pavita Singh and Sushma Sharma

With all the studying and other commitments in college, it can be all too easy to spend most of your time indoors. But spending time outdoors comes with a myriad of health benefits. In addition, it improves your memory, concentration, and creative thinking, all of which are associated with better academic outcomes. There are many colleges whose cultures are well suited to lovers of the great outdoors, 10 of which are listed below. If you’re looking for plenty of outdoor adventures as part of your college experiences, give these colleges a look.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_Boulder-300x199 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Flatirons, Boulder, CO

1. University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO: Boulder is known to be one of the most active and fittest cities in the US, and the various outdoor activities at CU Boulder are a testament to this title. Around campus you’ll see people running, biking, longboarding, or engaged in some other sort of activity. Campus is just a few minutes away from the Rocky Mountains and trails leading to the Flatirons and Flagstaff. Student organizations include archery, backcountry camping, climbing, ski racing, skydiving, and sailing. In the summer, students can inner tube down the center of town on Boulder Creek, and in the winter, they can hit up any of Colorado’s 21 ski resorts. Boulder Freeride, the ski and snowboard club on campus, has over 4000 members. First-year students can take part in CU Mountain Fest, where they can horseback ride, inflatable kayak on the Colorado River, hike, and rock climb. CU also has an Outdoor Program, which offers courses in fly-fishing, scuba diving, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, teamwork training, and white water kayaking. The campus is home to a 7000+ square-foot climbing gym and the Adventure Planning Center, which helps students with menu plans, food purchases, map printing, and trip logistics.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_Western-300x200 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Mount Baker

2. Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA: Sustainability and nature are important parts of Western Washington’s campus culture. Western Washington was one of the first universities to establish a college devoted entirely to environmental sciences, and there are at least 8 different majors related to the outdoors and the environment. The university is just an hour’s drive away from Mount Baker and Olympia National Park and overlooks the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay, where students go kayaking, canoeing, kiteboarding, and swimming. Other nearby outdoor attractions include Birch Bay, Larrabee, Sucia Island, Galbraith Mountain, and the North Cascades. There are students clubs for skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and even playing quidditch. The campus’s Outdoor Center organizes multiple outdoor trips each weekend that students can take part in. Given student interest in sustainability, there are many volunteer groups on campus where members participate in nature preservation. For example, the Western Wilderness Trail Corps maintain trails in the Northern Cascades.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_MontanaState-300x200 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Yellowstone National Park

3. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT: Bozeman is home to one of the best ski spots in the US and the Museum of the Rockies, which houses the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world. The campus is surrounded by trails that run all the way to Yellowstone, 5 mountain ranges, 2 rivers, and forests. The Outdoor Recreation Center at MSU is open all year round and hosts regular trips (including an annual women’s-only trip) to such destinations as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton National Parks, California, Mexico, Utah, and the Canadian Rockies. Students can also rent gear from the Outdoor Recreation Center. Student organizations include the range management club, the science and natural history filmmaking forum, alpine skiing, cycling, climbing, equestrian, logger sports, and ultimate Frisbee. Horticulture is a popular major at MSU. The campus is home to a three-acre vegetable garden called Towne’s Harvest Garden (THG). As part of the horticulture major, students can take the THG Field Experience Class, where they go produce and contribute to improving food security throughout the southwestern Montana Community.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_WarrenWilson-300x202 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Blue Ridge Parkway over Appalachian Mountains

4. Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC: Warren Wilson is well known for its Outdoor Leadership major, which includes courses in history and philosophy of outdoor adventure education, wilderness first response, backcountry skills and technique, and building trust and teamwork in outdoor spaces. Popular outdoor attractions near campus include the French Broad River, the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Blue Ridge Parkway. One day a year, the college reserves a section of Blue Ridge Parkway so students can go biking and longboarding. Students can engage in outdoor work-study programs in the school’s GIS lab or as part of the farm crew, forestry crew, garden crew, and landscaping crew. Student clubs include ultimate Frisbee, rowing, archery, fencing, and mountain biking. Every semester, students through an outdoor party called “Bubba,” where they all gather around a giant bonfire and enjoy themselves.

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Yosemite National Park

5. University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: From Berkley’s campus you have views of the San Francisco Bay and easy access to thousands of acres of parkland. Students can take part in an 8-week forestry field camp in the Sierra Nevada and go on backpacking trips to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks with Cal Adventures, the university’s outdoor education program. UC Berkeley also has an esteemed environmental studies program. There are several outdoor-related student organizations with which to get involved, including dragon boat, the adventurer society, hang gliding, hiking, running, archery, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, disc golf, equestrian, gardening, longboarding, photowalk, quidditch, skateboarding, surfing, and triathalon.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_Ithaca-300x202 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Robert Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

6. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Cornell’s campus features the Fall Creek and two gorges. Furthermore, Ithaca has 150 waterfalls all within 10 square miles. Nearby attractions include Finger Lakes National Forest, the Catskills and Adirondack Mountains, and Cayuga Lake. Even the course offerings take advantage of the great outdoors surrounding the campus. The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station offers programs in entomology, food science and tech, horticultural studies, and plant pathology. The Outing Club at Cornell has 2000 members who, for just $7 a semester, have access to an extensive gear collection. Between April and late October, there are weekly paddling sessions on Beebe Lake. Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) is one of the largest college-based outdoor programs in the US. It offers first-year wilderness pre-orientation trips, teamwork training on ropes courses, and over 130 hours of physical education in backpacking, canoeing, caving, climbing, kayaking, hiking, leadership, mountain biking, skiing, and more. The Cornell Tree Climbing Institute offers recreational tree climbing courses as close by as Ithaca and as far away as Sequoia National Park, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_UnivAlaska-300x200 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Denali National Park

7. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK: Outdoor activities abound at UAF. The campus is home to an experimental farm and forested acres on the North campus. Just a few hours away you’ll find Denali National Park. Students can climb the university’s ice tower, ski at Hulbert Nanook Terrain Park, and see the Alaska Range and Northern Lights from campus. UAF offers a minor in Arctic Skills, where you can learn about hiking through boreal forests and tundra rivers. The College of Natural Science and Mathematics, the School of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, and the School of Natural Resources and Extension all take advantage of the campus’s location. Students have pursued field studies with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Volcanological Field School. The summer before their freshman year, incoming students can take part in Wilderness Welcome trips, which include rafting, backpacking, canoeing, and inflatable kayaking. Student organizations include alpine, disc golf, cross country skiing, orienteering, parkour, ski club, trails club, and archery.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_Middlebury-300x208 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains

8. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT: Located in Champlain Valley, Middlebury is surrounded by the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Nearby state parks include Chimney Point, Weybridge Care Natural Area, and Branbury. The campus has 17 of its own ski trails in its College Snow Bowl. It also hosts the nation’s oldest winter carnival, which features music and a ski competition. The school has an Adventure Grant program, which compensates students for gas, food, and camping fees when they go on outdoor trips. There’s also an Outdoor Interest House on campus which houses 30 students. Environmental studies is one of the most popular majors on campus and makes use of the surrounding beauty. The Middlebury Mountain Club leads free hiking, boating, rock climbing, and winter trips for students. Other student clubs include skiing, log rolling, fly fishing, trap and skeet shooting, Nordic skiing, cycling, crew, sailing, and quidditch.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_UnivVermont-300x199 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Stowe, Vermont

9. University of Vermont, Burlington, VT: UVM is right by Lake Champlain, Centennial Woods Natural Area, and Winooski Valley Park District. The famous Outing Club organizes several backpacking trips, day hikes, and paddling and rock climbing adventures. One of its traditions is having hot chocolate on top of Mt. Hunger under a full moon. The school offers 100 ski trips annually and the Ski and Snowboard Club provides free transportation to nearby resorts, including Stowe Mountain, Mad River Glen, and Sugarbush, where students can get discounts. Other student organizations include gardening, horticulture, biking, and fly fishing. There are 22 environmental and outdoor-based majors at UVM.

InfoBlog_11_CollegeForAdventurers_UnivWyoming-300x200 10 Best Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers
Canyonlands National Park, southeastern Utah

10. University of Wyoming, Laramie WY: Nearby attractions to University of Wyoming’s campus include the Snowy Range Mountains, Medicine Bow National Forest, Banforth National Wildlife Refuge, Lost Lake, and Prexy’s Pasture. University of Wyoming offers an intensive two-semester Outdoor Leadership Development Series, which culminates in a week of backpacking without an instructor in southeastern Utah. Students can also take non-credit classes in rock climbing, fly fishing, kayaking, skiing, safety, and mountaineering. Student organizations include angling, climbing, equestrian, shooting sports, ranch horse team, Nordic skiing team, triathlon, ultimate, and alpine skiing.

If you’re interested in any of these colleges and want to learn more from someone who has walked the path, get on Konversai. Konversai is a knowledge-sharing social conversation platform that allows for one-on-one live video conversations between anyone, anywhere, about anything. The only limit is your imagination. On Konversai, you can connect with current college students and alumni, outdoor enthusiasts, and more. No matter how seemingly mundane or obscure your interests and passions are, they all have a place on Konversai. You don’t have to be an expert. Whatever knowledge, skills, and experiences you have could be of benefit to someone somewhere else in the world. Users are encouraged to be both providers and seekers of knowledge on any and as many topics as they wish, and knowledge providers are encouraged to charge for their time. They also have the option of holding sessions for free or contributing their earnings to a charity. Whether you come onto Konversai’s platform as a knowledge provider or knowledge seeker, you are sure to leave the conversation feeling inspired and enriched.

1. Bannon, Jackie. (2015). Top 10 Colleges for Outdoor Enthusiasts. College Magazine.
2. Bannon, Jackie & Webber, Carolyn. (2016). The 20 Best Colleges for Hikers. Backpacker.
3. Best College Reviews. The 35 Best Outdoor Schools in America.
4. College Choice. (2016). 20 Best Colleges and Universities for Outdoor Adventurers.
5. Gitlen, Jeff. (2017). 30 Best Colleges for Outdoor Sports and Recreation. Lend Edu.
6. Kratsas, Gabrielle. (2015). 30 Great Small Colleges for Nature Lovers. Great Value Colleges.
7. Lynch, Amy. (2016). Best Colleges for Outdoor Enthusiasts. Marmot.
8. Mulhere, Kaitlin. (2017). 10 Best Colleges for People Who Love the Great Outdoors. Money.
9. Siegrist, Claire. (2016). The Top 20 U.S. Colleges for Outdoor Adventurers. The Outbound Collective.


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